Sea Turtle Nesting Season (March 31 - October 1) takes place each year on Greater Fort Lauderdale's beaches -- and these ancient mariners need all the help they can get. Nearly 90% of sea turtle nesting in the U.S. occurs in Florida. From March through October these creatures will return to their home beaches to lay eggs. Greater Fort Lauderdale's coastal residents and beach visitors can help sea turtles during the nesting season by keeping beaches clean, being aware of nesting sites and reducing artificial lighting near beaches that can distract and confuse mothers and hatchlings. Sea turtle hatchlings use light and reflections from the moon to find their way to the water at night. Artificial lighting discourages adult females from nesting on the beach.
Turtles deposit approximately 100 golf-ball size eggs, gently cover the eggs with sand and then they spread sand over a wide area to obscure the exact location of the chamber. They then leave the nest site and reenter the water.
Since adult sea turtles do not nurture their hatchlings, the female never sees the nest site again. A single female may nest several times during a season and then not nest again for one or two years. Approximately half of all emergencies result in a female crawling on the beach and reentering the water without digging a nest. These are called "false crawls" and usually occur because the turtle was disturbed or it could not find a suitable nest site. The crawl tracks left on the beach are always made by female sea turtles and they resemble marks left by a tractor tire. Male sea turtles never leave the ocean.
Incubation of the nests takes about two months. After incubation, the hatchlings emerge from the nest en masse and, using various environmental and inherited cues, quickly migrate to the water's edge. If artificial lights are lighting the beach, the hatchlings will be disoriented, travel in the wrong direction, and possibly never make it to the water. Here in Greater Fort Lauderdale, some nests that are laid in areas with too much artificial lighting are fitted with restraining cages, which trap the hatchlings and prevent them from crawling the wrong way on the beach. Permitted biologists with the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program check on the cages many times each night to ensure that the turtles are safely released.
Once in the water the hatchlings swim directly out to sea, facing a perilous struggle to survive to adulthood. The best scientific estimates available indicate that only one in 1,000 hatchlings will survive (anywhere from 12-50 years) to become a reproductive adult sea turtle.
DID YOU KNOW? Broward County had a record-breaking sea turtle nesting season in 2017 with a total of 3,587 nests laid overall, making it the highest year on record since the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program (BCSTCP) began counting nests in 1981. (Edging just ahead of the previous record in 2016 when 3,567 nests were laid).
If you see a sea turtle that needs help, y ou can call the Broward County Sea Turtle Conservation Program sea turtle emergency hotline at 954-328-0580 or the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission at 1-888-404-3922.
(Photo courtesy of Jennifer Andrighetti Photography)